Annual Theological Lecture Report

On a frosty February night, more than 100 people gathered in the beautiful St Teresa’s Church on the Glen Road in West Belfast. In his warm welcome Father Brendan referred to the mystery and mysticism of St Teresa and how that fed into the healing of wounds. Gladys Ganiel hosted the night for 4 Corners and began by checking where people had come from and reassuringly found a fairly even spread of the compass points. She noted the appropriateness of the lectionary reading of the day which was Isaiah 58.

“…share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear.”

Worship was led by Chris Blake from Fitzroy Presbyterian Church and then Brian McKee came to share his thoughts. Brian is the former Director of Youth Ministry in the Down and Conor Diocese and a qualified Religious Studies Teacher. Much of his working live has had a focus on peace and reconciliation work.

Brian set the scene by taking us back to his 10-year-old year old self in August 1969 and the fear in the neighbourhood as barriers were built and the family had to sleep downstairs. It was a sobering beginning and yet also hopeful as it reminded us how much things had changed for the better. Brian outlined a theology of hope that gives dignity to all, beginning with the story of a fancy Gin advert which showed a beautiful beach background with the bottle rising out of the azure water – the tagline was “It came out of the Blue!”

Reconciliation is not like that – it does not come out of the blue and takes years of hard work and courageous leaders not afraid to build new relationships. He broke down the meaning of reconciliation from the Greek – saying it literally means to come back into eyelash contact with someone – this is not just friendship – this is getting right up close and personal with someone. He also referred to TS Elliot’s 4 Quartets poem as a way of saying that last year’s words are gone and we need new words to move forward. He also references Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings with the observation that even though we wish it had never happened, the only choice we have is what to do with the time we have been given.

Thus, we should use our time to reach out and welcome the stranger as a way of healing our own wounds. He noted that often those most involved in peace making are those who have been most affected by the troubles. He warned that what we did to each other in the past we are at risk of doing to Muslims today. He finished with a vision of the future – “God will reign in Belfast when we recognise the eternal value of ourselves and others. When we reach out to those who are in fear and poverty. When everyone can fulfil their God-given potential.

Former Presbyterian Moderator Trevor Morrow began by talking about how someone born in Lambeg had ended up living and working just outside Dublin for 30 years. His vision for reconciliation was based on three things – Kenosis, Servanthood and Sacrifice. Trevor explained that we learn from the Greek word Kenosis where just as Jesus did not cease to be God in order to become one with us, we do not have to abandon our identities as Republican or Unionist but to see healing we need to embrace and be willing to practice and become part of the culture of those from whom we are alienated. Servanthood, as Jesus became a servant, humbly seeking what was best for those who misunderstood and maligned him, we too are called to pursue justice, peace and the summum bonum for those whose historic, cultural and political identities seems a threat to us. Sacrifice: To be at peace with his enemies, Jesus laid down his life. He died for us. To achieve healing is costly. Forgiveness is hellish, as we see it on the cross. There will be moments of pain, frustration, disappointment in the healing process. It is costly but the result is worth it. Shalom and true healing in Belfast is when every tongue, in Ulster Scots, in Irish and English will express their delight in being the children of the age which is to come!

Chris Blake then concluded the evening with the song ‘Christ be our Light,” which calls us all to be servants to one another.

 

Reflection from 4 Corners Committee Member Jim Deeds.

Tonight as part of our festival we had Trevor Morrow and Brian McKee join us in the beautiful St Teresa’s Church in West Belfast. A crowd of 110 (wow!)  people came to listen. They came from all corners of Belfast and beyond. They came from a variety of faith traditions. But they listened as one people as Trevor and Brian spoke to us about how we can understand healing in a wounded society and how we can paint a peaceful future in this ‘blank canvas Belfast’. They drew us to consider that it will involve, 

Meeting others in genuine and non judgemental encounter, where we leave our own identity aside for a while in order to understand the other. 

Serving the interests of the other, even or especially, if it does not meet my own priorities. 

Making the sacrifice of suffering the pain of forgiveness. 

Chris Blake led us in musical prayer throughout the evening and the hospitality team of St Teresa’s parish filled us with hot tea and coffee and good things to eat afterwards. All in all it was a tremendous evening. We were blessed indeed. We left with a real sense of the possibility and challenge of painting anew on ‘blank canvas Belfast’. 

What would you paint?